Do we over-invest in non-traditional students?

Do We Over-Invest in Non-Traditional Students? asks Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, on Minding the Campus. Older and part-time students are the “new majority” on college campuses, but their completion rates are low, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

Two-thirds of full-time traditional-age students who started in 2007 — but only half of those 25 and older — earned a degree by 2013. Overall, 86 percent of full-time four-year students graduate within six years compared to 20 percent of part-time students. More than two-thirds of part-time students entering in 2007 not only had no degree by 2013, but were not in school.

. . . perhaps we should reduce subsidies for part-time or older students. Younger students have more than a 40-year work lifetime expectancy after graduation; older students often have 20 years or less. The economic and noneconomic benefits of a degree are far smaller for older students because they enjoy them for fewer years —and there is a far greater risk they won’t graduate. Encouraging older students to attend school part-time strikes me as questionable, something pushed by colleges facing enrollment shortfalls desperate for more bodies in the classroom.

At community colleges, the low costs are “considerably offset” by the greater non-completion risk, Vedder writes. Starting at a community college and transferring “works for many and saves lots of money.” But the reality is that many community college students never graduate.

CCs add 4-year degrees, but face pushback

Twenty-three Florida community colleges now offer four-year degrees in high-demand vocational fields, but a bill in the Legislature would prevent colleges from adding bachelor’s degrees without legislative approval. Currently, the state education board authorizes new four-year degrees at two-year colleges.

With tuition two-thirds cheaper at a community college compared to a state university, the lawmakers behind the bill warn that it’s unfair competition. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), said many community colleges are offering more than just specialized bachelor’s degrees, such as nursing and public safety, and are competing with state universities to offer more general degrees, like history, at less cost.

Gov. Rick Scott thinks competition will help students. He’s challenged community colleges to offer four-year degrees with a price tag of $10,000. Daytona State College will be the first with a $10,000 bachelor’s in education.

Students are enthusiastic about the four-year option, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.  At Florida community colleges — now called state colleges — more than 30,000 students are pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

It’s cheaper and more convenient than attending a four-year university, especially for working parents and part-time students, who make up a large proportion of community college attendees.

The cost of a baccalaureate course at St. Petersburg College is $118.70 per credit hour, compared to $211.19 at the nearby University of South Florida. . . .

Universities are resisting the trend in many states. Community colleges typically are limited to degrees in vocational fields.

Colorado legislators approved letting community colleges offer four-year degrees only after satisfying Colorado State University and the University of Colorado — whose lobbying was blamed for killing a previous version of a proposal — that they would be limited to career and technical fields such as culinary arts and dental hygiene.

In Michigan, similar legislation was passed over the concerted, years-long opposition of that state’s public universities, which said letting community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees was mission creep, blurs the distinction between different branches of higher education and raises quality concerns. In the end, the community colleges were limited to baccalaureate programs in maritime studies, culinary arts, energy production and concrete technology.

California legislators have rejected four-year degrees at community college three times since 2009, but a new proposal has a good chance of success.

Making college affordable

Are there better ways to pay for higher education? The Lumina Foundation has commissioned papers on new models of financial aid by a wide array of authors.

In Redefining College Affordability, Education Optimists Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall propose offering two free years at a public college to every high school graduate.

• All eligible students can attend any public college or university (2-year or 4-year) for free for the first two years

• Through a redirection of current federal financial aid funding, the federal government pays tuition for all students, and provides additional performance-based top-up funding for institutions that serve low-income students.

• Participating institutions cannot charge tuition or additional fees to students

• State funding for higher education will be redirected to cover books and supplies for all students

Student living expenses would be covered by a state and local stipend, a federally funded work-study job and access to federal loans.

California Competes’ College Considerator ”tells users how likely they are to graduate and how long it will take based on a combination of their own self-described backgrounds and plans (such as working, or going part time) and the colleges’ graduation rates.”

The Considerator estimates “debt hazard” and predicts the “break-even age” – how old the graduate would be when the cumulative benefits of college surpass the costs.

Several papers looked at income-based repayment schemes:

· Can Income-Driven Repayment Policies be Efficient, Effective, and Equitable? Nicholas Hillman, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jacob Gross, University of Louisville

· Estimating the Costs and Benefits of Income-Based Student Loan Repayment Systems: Beth Akers, Brookings Institution, Matthew Chingos, Brookings Institution

· From Income-based Repayment Plans to an Income-based Loan System: Robert G. Sheets, George Washington Institute for Public Policy, George Washington University, Stephen Crawford, George Washington Institute for Public Policy, George Washington University

· Should All Student Loan Payments Be Income-Driven? Benefits, Trade-offs, and Challenges: Lauren Asher, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), Diane Cheng, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), Jessica Thompson, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS)

In I’ll Pay for College, But It’s Not a Loan, National Journal looks at proposed legislation letting students fund their college costs by selling investors a percentage of future income for a fixed period. Because the money isn’t a loan, the petroleum engineering major who decides to become a poet couldn’t default. 

Why job-seekers pick for-profit colleges

Some career-focused students choose a for-profit college over a much cheaper community college, writes Sophie Quinton on National Journal.

In Virginia Beach, 27-year-old Darius Mitchell was “really tired of making $9 an hour.” After years working retail jobs, he consolidated previous student loans and took out more to enroll at ECPI University. He’ll graduate in May with an associate degree in network security and a job at Canon Information Technology Services.

At about $14,000 a year, tuition at ECPI is more than triple that of an in-state student at nearby Tidewater Community College. But low-income students are willing to cough up the money because programs are shorter, graduation rates are higher, and 85 percent of students move into jobs in their field of study — usually health care or technology — soon after graduation.

. . . Students are drawn here because, unlike at a community college, they can start classes every five weeks and attend on nights and weekends. Course material is also accelerated, so an associate’s degree can take just a year and a half to complete and a bachelor’s can take two and a half. Students don’t have to load up on courses to meet broad requirements; they only take classes relevant to the credential they want.

ECPI also offers job placement help. The career-services team helped Matthew Bailey, 43, find a job in tech support for InMotion Hosting. He’s working on a software development degree.

ECPI’s graduation rate of 40 percent for first-time college students is twice the graduation rate at the local community college, notes Quinton.  ”In 2011, ECPI awarded more computer science associate’s degrees to African-Americans like Mitchell than all the public community colleges in Virginia combined.”

The college penalty

What school will make you poorest? asks Jordan Weissmann on Slate. Every year, Payscale surveys college graduates to assess their earnings relative to their college costs. At almost two-dozen colleges, the average graduate’s “earning power won’t increase enough to justify the cost of tuition,” writes Weissmann. “To be blunt, these schools make students poorer.”

“Payscale doesn’t compare the alums of low-ranked colleges to demographically similar high school grads,” notes Weissmann. So colleges that enroll less-capable students will do worse at raising their earnings.

The Atlantic looks at colleges and majors that are the “biggest waste of money.” For example, “the self-reported earnings of art majors from Murray State are so low that after two decades, a typical high school grad will have out-earned them by nearly $200,000.”

Here are the degrees with the lowest 20-year net return, according to Payscale. Bold names are for in-state students. There are a lot of education degrees on the list.

Unless you’re attending a rigorous, high-prestige university, an arts degree is a risky bet, points out The Economist.  ”Of the 153 arts degrees in the study, 46 generated a return on investment worse than plonking the money in 20-year treasury bills. Of those, 18 offered returns worse than zero.”

The Payscale study overstates the financial value of a college education, warns The Economist. It compares graduates’ “earnings to those of people who did not go to college—many of whom did not go because they were not clever enough to get in. Thus, some of the premium that graduates earn simply reflects the fact that they are, on average, more intelligent than non-graduates.”

Oregon pilot aids first-generation students

To help low-income, first-generation students complete community college, an Oregon pilot will provide scholarships, advising and other support, reports the Oregonian.  ”The program will be modeled on the private- and City of Portland-funded Future Connect program at Portland Community College.”

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber also signed a bill creating a commission to study offering free tuition at community colleges. He called for a day when “every student in our state believes in their heart that a post-secondary education is within their reach.”

Oregon wants 80 percent of young adults to earn a college degree or an industry-recognized certificate by 2025. Currently, about 48 percent of working-age Oregonians have a postsecondary credential.

States consider $0 community college tuition

Worried about a shortage of skilled workers, some states are considering free community college tuition, reports NPR.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam wants to use lottery money to create a free community college program for high school graduates. The state wants 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree by 2025, up from 32 percent now.

In Oregon, a state commission will look at whether free tuition is feasible.

However, Oregon and Tennessee legislators aren’t sure that middle-class students should pay nothing. A Mississippi bill passed the state House, but then failed in the Senate.

“I think everybody agrees that with a high school education by itself, there is no path to the middle class,” said State Sen. Mark Hass, who is leading the no-tuition effort in Oregon. “There is only one path, and it leads to poverty. And poverty is very expensive.”

Hass said free community college and increasing the number of students who earn college credit while in high school are keys to addressing a “crisis” in education debt. Taxpayers will ultimately benefit, he said, because it’s cheaper to send someone to community college than to have him or her in the social safety net.

Nationwide, the average annual cost of community college tuition is about $3,300, not counting books and fees. 

California’s community colleges were free until the mid-1980s. (Even now, students don’t pay “tuition.” They pay “fees.”)

“What is exciting to us about the idea is that it signals that the state understands there needs to be significant reinvestment in community colleges in some way, shape or form,” said Mary Spilde, the president of Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., where in-state students pay $93 per credit hour. Back in 1969-70, baby boomers paid $6 per credit hour — about $37 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation.

Tennessee and Oregon may adopt the “last-dollar in” model: The state would fund tuition not covered by other forms of aid, such as Pell Grants. That means state money would pay primarily for middle-class families, said Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas. “And is that your best use of dollars within the public interest?”

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said students are more likely to be successful if they have “skin in the game” and pay something toward their education.

Lost credits hurt transfer students

Lost credits make it difficult for community college transfers to earn a bachelor’s degree, concludes a new City University of New York study. The more credits earned but rejected by the four-year institution, the less likely a transfer will graduate.

Students who start at a community college with hopes of earning a bachelor’s are less likely to reach their goal than similar students who start at a four-year college or university. The study estimates a 17 percent graduation gap for full-time, traditional-age students. The usual suspects — inadequate academic preparation and community colleges’ vocational emphasis — aren’t the primary factors, the authors write. Community college students don’t “cool out” on their desire for a bachelor’s degree. Nor is it true that community college students receive lower aid levels after transfer. For the most part, it’s the lost credits, the CUNY study concludes.

Six-year outcomes by starting institution type (Source: National Student Clearinghouse)

Fifty-four percent of community college transfers would earn a bachelor’s degree, if not for lost academic credits, researchers estimate. Currently, only 45 percent complete a four-year degree in four years.

“Loss of credits is a tax on transfer students,” CUNY researcher David Monaghan said.

Eighty-one percent of community college students say they plan to transfer and earn a four-year degree. But only 42 percent of BA-intending students actually transfer.

The average full-time student takes 3.8 years to earn a two-year degree and 4.7 years to get a four-year degree, estimates Complete College America. The average student earns 80 credits for an associate degree that requires 60 and 136.5 for a 120-degree bachelor’s degree.

Retaking courses costs time and money, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed

“About 14 percent of transfer students in the study essentially began anew after transferring,” according to the paper. Fewer than 10 percent of their community college credits were accepted. A majority — 58 percent — transferred 90 percent or more of their credits. The remaining 28 percent lost between 10 and 89 percent of their credits.

To avoid transfer hassles, community colleges in more than 20 states now offer four-year degrees, typically in vocational fields. California legislators are considering the option for the state’s 112 community colleges.

A new report on college completion from the National Student Clearinghouse estimates that 36.5 percent of students who start at community college will complete an associate degree in six years, while 15 percent will complete a four-year degree. Completion rates are much higher for exclusively full-time students and traditional-age students.

College heads resist federal ratings

College presidents “agree that their institutions should be reporting much more information about the career and other outcomes of their graduates,” but they’re wary of federal involvement,  according to Inside Higher Ed‘s new survey of college presidents.

Three-quarters of presidents say their institutions should be reporting the debt levels, job placement rates and graduate school enrollment rates of recent graduates, for instance (though fewer say they are doing so now). But just half of campus leaders agree that it is “appropriate for the federal government to collect and publish data on career and other outcomes of college graduates” (with public and for-profit college leaders much more likely to say so than their private nonprofit peers), and just 13 percent believe the government has a “good chance” of collecting such data accurately.

Higher education leaders aren’t happy about President Obama’s plans to create a federal ratings system of “college value,” notes Inside Higher Ed.

In  a poll of college presidents late last year, only 2 percent plan believed the ratings plan would be “very effective” at making higher education affordable.

Only a third of private non-profit college leaders.think it’s appropriate for the government to collect and publish outcomes data. By contrast, more than 60 percent of community college, public university and for-profit college leaders accept a federal role.

Few in any sector believed the federal government will do a good job of tracking higher ed outcomes.

Asked if the government has a “good chance” of collecting and reporting accurately on higher education outcomes, 9 percent of private nonprofit presidents (on the low end) and 16 percent of public university leaders (on the high end) answered positively.

We need college ratings aimed at the 85 percent of students who go to unselective or less-selective institutions, writes Carrie Warick of National College Access Network.

. . . prospective college students need to know not just about accessibility/selectivity (average GPA, SAT/ACT scores), but also about affordability (net price by income tier, average student loan debt, ability to repay loans) and accountability (graduation rates by race and by income). The information should be sortable by location (to aid place-bound students) and by institution type (two-year, four-year, public, private) for students to compare side by side.

. . . we must change the federal calculation of graduation rates as soon as possible to account for part-time and transfer students, and we must collect and report institutional Pell Grant recipient graduation rates as part of the federal data system (IPEDS). Over the long term, we should also find a valid way to assess workforce outcomes for students.

Get the system up and running quickly, writes Warick. Then “we can turn to the more complex and politically difficult question of how to use federal financial aid dollars to incentivize better institutional outcomes.”

Texas shows college options, pay-offs

What will it cost to major in dental hygiene at the nearest community college? What’s the average first-year and median earnings? What’s the graduation rate? Texas has created a useful cost-benefit guide for prospective college students, writes Fawn Johnson in the National Journal magazine.

The searchable MyFutureTx.com can be customized to reflect the searcher’s location, household income, and SAT scores. It will help a future college student browse possible careers, majors and college options, warn about college costs and debt and predict future earnings.

If you’re a high school student in Texas and dream of a career in the arts, you might want to know that fine-arts and studio-arts graduates at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls make, on average, about $10,000 more per year than alumni who majored in the same subjects at Sul Ross State University in Alpine—and that the disparity lasts for 10 years after graduation. Yet the total cost of a bachelor’s degree is the same at both schools, around $42,000. The average time to complete the degree is also about the same, a little more than five years.

Several states have developed websites with data on graduates’ earnings, job opportunities across majors, and comparisons of colleges’ costs, writes Johnson. Texas’ site is the most sophisticated.

Anthropology majors who graduated in 2002 make an average of only $46,000 after 10 years on the job, the site warns. Economics majors from 2002, by contrast, earn about $100,000.

Investigating a career as a dental hygienist, I used the site to find eight community colleges that offer an associate degree in dental support services for an annual net price less than $5,000. Statewide, the average time to a dental support degree is 5.4 years, but 84 percent of graduates are employed. The average first-year pay is $44,747. By the 10th year, that’s up to $53,213 — better than graduates with a bachelor’s in anthropology.

But not all dental hygienists do that well. El Paso Community College graduates start at $24,435 and rise to $39,768 in 10 years.

Texas Reality Check encourages young people to estimate their spending, then shows pay, after taxes, for hundreds of careers. A child-care workers can expect to take home $1,233 a month, the site estimates. That’s one third the take-home pay of a dental hygienist.